This article first appeared in Pianist Magazine’s Newsletter in August 2016. Most of us benefit from a brief ‘warming-up’ or ‘pre-practice’ session before work begins in earnest, whether that may be stretching, playing very slowly, negotiating simple piano exercises, sight-reading or even preparing mentally with a coffee! Everyone has their preferred method; during my interview series (Classical Conversations), one eminent pianist remarked that morning practice was simply impossible without playing scales at a quarter of the intended speed whilst intermittently sipping a weak cup of English breakfast tea! I hope these suggestions may be of interest. You can read the original article here.
Warming up before you practice is important, especially before negotiating large chords or octave patterns. Warm-ups don’t need to last a long time; 3-5 minutes is ample. Here are a few ideas to add to your pre-practice routine:
1. Before you start, stretch out your arms, hands and then fingers, one by one, and encourage your wrists to make circular motions in the air (away from the keyboard). Flexibility and freedom during practice can be helped by freeing and relaxing the muscles beforehand.
2. As you put your hands on the keys, play a triad (one in each hand), slowly, allowing your fingers to sink into the keys. Repeat this with different keys and chord shapes. I like to play diminished sevenths as they fit my hand comfortably.
3. Now start playing scalic patterns; again, very slowly, allowing the tips of the fingers to play deep into the key-bed. You could begin with five-finger note patterns, hands separately, then play them in unison.
4. Move on to a few scales. Once you’ve played several two octave similar motion scales (in different keys), work with various touches: legato, non-legato, staccato, martellato, etc. If the wrists make small rotational movements after each note (when playing slowly), this will be a helpful way to keep flexible and tension free.
5. End with a few arpeggios and broken chords. Select your keys and work carefully, observing the movement required to play each note with an even sound (and pulse). Keep arms moving freely, guiding the hands and fingers during the larger intervals. When warming-up, slow speeds are much more beneficial.
You could now move on to exercises such as those by Hanon, Cramer or Czerny, working on technique, or you may just want to dive into your pieces!
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.